The Ger­man War: A Na­tion Un­der Arms

By Ni­cholas Star­gardt

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - THE GUIDE -

(Bod­ley Head, 720 pages, £25) There are many books about the Bri­tish Home Front in the Se­cond World War but far fewer about its Ger­man equiv­a­lent. There are par­al­lels, of course e, in­clud­ing air raids, ra­tioning and the de­mands­mands of ‘to­tal war’. But as this fine book demon­strates, the par­al­lels only go so far. The Ger­man ex­pe­ri­ence of the war led to a trau­ma­tised na­tion that has only be­gun to se­ri­ously study how the con­flict af­fected or­di­nary peo­ple in the last cou­ple of decades.

Put sim­ply, the key dif­fer­ence be­tween the Bri­tish and Ger­man ex­pe­ri­ences is that the Ger­mans lost. In Ger­many, 1945 is re­ferred to as ‘Jahr Null’ – Zero Year – when Al­lied air raids and the ar­rival of the oc­cu­pa­tion forces caused im­mense dam­age and the to­tal dis­lo­ca­tion of civil so­ci­ety. It also refers to the fact Ger­many had been a to­tal­i­tar­ian state from 1933, and one based on an in­hu­mane ide­ol­ogy that ul­ti­mately led to the mur­der of six mil­lion Jews.

Yet, as this book points out, the Nazi au­thor­i­ties con­stantly wor­ried that pub­lic opin­ion would turn against their poli­cies. But it never did. By and large peo­ple knew what was hap­pen­ing to the Jews and even dis­cussed it in pub­lic. In the end, though, they ei­ther swal­lowed Nazi pro­pa­ganda or kept silent.

Ni­cholas Star­gardt looks at the war through the eyes of a dozen or so Ger­mans. Some were anti-Nazi, but most were or­di­nary peo­ple caught up in events not of their mak­ing, try­ing to sur­vive and pro­tect their fam­i­lies. He weaves their ex­pe­ri­ences through a long and de­tailed his­tory of the Ger­man Home Front.

Don’t let the length put you off. This is a well-writ­ten and hu­mane ac­count of a pe­riod of mad­ness and how in­di­vid­u­als sought to make sense of it. Read­ers will ask: what would have I done in th­ese cir­cum­stances? If we are hon­est, like most Ger­mans we would have prob­a­bly grum­bled but would have done no more, cowed by the Nazis and their pro­pa­ganda.

Si­mon Fowler is a pro­fes­sional writer and

his­tory re­searcher

Cologne lies in ru­ins in the af­ter­math of Al­lied bomb­ing raids dur­ing the Se­cond World War

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.